Each "Prestige Honoree" got a $100 check and a glamour shot that was part of a 15-minute slide show, and several of them are featured on signs at bus stops and on city buses and on billboards that say "I Teach. I am." Cash called them "our irreplaceables" at a time when teachers are leading the news and frequently under fire in Memphis and Shelby County as well Chicago, where the teachers' union is on strike.
Speaking without notes, Cash then took a personal tack.
"I've only fallen in love with two women in my life," he said. One was his wife, who died earlier this year. He recalled how she urged him to come home earlier and spend more time with her and their family, and he promised he would but devoted himself to work instead.
"I'll be there, I'll be there," he would say. "I never thought she was going to pass when she passed. I thought I had some years."
He said he is "almost at complete peace" now that the school system merger is less than year away and "my role now is to transition." He praised "my great beautiful staff" and in a voice choking with emotion said the second love of his life was "that grand lady which is Memphis City Schools."
"I'm honored to be able to have served with you for just a few years," he said.
He stopped short of setting a resignation date but later told me he expects to be gone by the end of the calendar year. He said he is still a finalist for a superintendent job in Florida and has fully informed the school board.
It was one of the best impromptu speeches I have seen and heard in years and he seemed to have the crowd in the palm of his hand, almost like Bill Clinton at the Democratic Convention last week, but in his own way. It was clear why Cash has been a finalist for at least three big superintendent jobs in the last four years. And a reminder that a public man or woman has many sides that not everyone sees. And, finally, a night to make Memphis proud of its schools and teachers.